The Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets addressed on Tuesday recent reports that said the United States Department of Defense paid $5.4 million in taxpayer money to NFL teams over the past four seasons.
The NJ.com report published last week found that 14 NFL teams were paid from 2011 to 2014, including the Falcons and Jets. The Falcons reportedly received $1,049,500 over that period, while the Jets were reportedly paid $377,500, mainly from the New Jersey National Guard.
Figures ranging from U.S. Senator John McCain to New Jersey governor Chris Christie have criticized the teams, but the Jets and Falcons both said Wednesday that their partnerships the National Guard were not misleading.
"Our marketing and sponsorship agreement with the National Guard is designed to fulfill their objectives of increasing awareness and aiding in recruiting efforts, which has become more important in an all-volunteer service environment," Falcons owner and chairman Arthur Blank wrote in an open letter to fans. "This is no different than any other sponsorship agreement in that it is structured to fit a business need."
Blank wrote the Falcons 2014 agreement with the National Guard included advertising on the team's website, game day programs, signage inside the Georgia dome including LED and backlit messaging on game days and in other locations.
"It is regretful that the good works of our NFL league office and teams were overlooked in the news stories of the last few days, and I hope this letter aids in painting a more accurate portrayal," We remain steadfast in our desire to be good citizens and proud supporters of our community, including our support of the important work of our Armed Forces."
The Jets' statement criticized the media reports as "misleading" and called them "based on misrepresentations and blatant factual errors."
"The facts are that from 2011-2014 the New Jersey National Guard (and, to clarify, no other Military branch) had an advertising and promotional contract with the Jets. The National Guard approached us, seeking our promotional assets to reach their target audience. The National Guard, and the U.S. Military in general, spend millions annually to maintain an all-volunteer force. As a National Guard spokesman recently confirmed, his organization has found it effective to use some of its budget with the Jets, the NFL, and other sports properties. Our understanding is that this arrangement was similar in content to other sports advertising expenditures made by the National Guard.
"We are privileged to be able to express our gratitude to U.S. Military personnel in this way, and proud of how these efforts have been embraced by our fans. ... It is for this reason that we take such exception to the shameful manner in which our contract with the National Guard (which has since expired) has been distorted. Going forward, we will pay closer attention to ensuring that any arrangement we have with a government entity is clearly identified. However, the suggestion by critics that our long track record of honoring military service was improperly motivated is patently offensive. It may also unfairly place some of our fans in the unfortunate position of questioning our intentions any time they see a military presence at a Jets home game or event."
- Mike Fiammetta